2007 Draft produced several solid prospects for Nashville Predators

By Evgeny Oliker
Photo: Jeremy Smith was one of two goaltenders selected by the Predators in the 2007 draft. Now in his third professional season, Smith has been one of the top netminders in the AHL. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

The 2007 NHL Draft is shaping up to be a top heavy draft for the Nashville Predators. Their first three selections, Jonathon Blum, Jeremy Smith, and Nick Spaling, all have a strong chance of making the NHL full-time. However, the future of the other six Predators selections from that year is less clear.

The first three selections have all received call-ups to the NHL. Blum has played parts of last season and this season with the Predators. Jeremy Smith did receive one call-up this season but did not get into a game yet. Nick Spaling has been a Predator since October of 2010. From the Predators 2007 Draft, Spaling is the only one who can be considered an NHL regular at this point. Blum is currently in the AHL but still stands a very good chance of becoming a top four NHL defenseman eventually. Jeremy Smith has been the number one goalie for the Admirals since last season. He also has the upside to make the NHL in some capacity.

The other six 2007 Predators selections are less inspiring. Their final selection, Atte Engren, might actually hold the most promise out of this group. As Smith's backup in Milwaukee, he has the raw talent to potentially see some NHL action in the future.

Jonathon Blum, D, Vancouver Giants (WHL) – 1st round, 23rd overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 56

The Nashville Predators spent their first pick of the 2007 Entry Draft on the highly-touted Jonathon Blum. Prior to the trade deadline, the Predators traded Scottie Upshall, Ryan Parent, and their first round pick and third round pick in 2007 to Philadelphia for Peter Forsberg. However, in the off-season the Predators also traded the rights to Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell to Philadelphia in order to get back that first round pick in 2007

In his draft year, Blum ranked seventh among WHL defensemen in points with 51 but managed to improve on that total in each of his next two seasons. Showing the ability to also play smart defensively, Blum finished a plus-53 in his final season. He helped his team win the 2006 WHL Championship and the 2007 MasterCard Memorial Cup. The icing on the cake was being named the 2009 WHL Defenseman of the Year at the conclusion of his WHL career.

Blum had an excellent rookie season in the AHL with 41 points. Last season he was so impressive that a late season injury to Ryan Suter prompted the Predators to reward Blum with a call-up. He stuck with the Predators until the end of their playoff run. Not phased by the pressure of the playoffs, he played a key role throughout the playoffs.

This season has been about Blum finally showing that he is human. He has shown some lapses in judgment defensively. Hoping to get his confidence back, the Predators sent him to the AHL on January 6th. Thus far his AHL stint has been marred by more defensive break downs. He may not have the size or physicality to become a top pairing defenseman. However, a future as a top four NHL defenseman who gets power play time is likely.

Jeremy Smith, G, Plymouth Whalers (OHL) – 2nd round, 54th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Ranked very high by most scouts during his draft year, Jeremy Smith was surprisingly not the first or second goalie taken in 2007. However, the three goalies who went ahead of him, Joel Gistedt, Trevor Cann (COL), and Antoine Lafleur, have not had memorable careers thus far. During his draft year Smith was known as an athletic goalie who is sound positionally and that has not changed over time.

Smith spent four seasons with the OHL Plymouth Whalers. In 2007 he won an OHL Championship as well as USA Hockey's Dave Peterson Award as the best junior goaltender in the United States. He did struggle at times during his senior season and was eventually traded from the Whalers to the IceDogs.

At the conclusion of the 2009 Predators training camp, Smith was assigned to the ECHL. This decision was made partially because Smith's senior OHL season was not his best. Smith made the most of his situation. He, along with Robert Mayer, helped lead the Cyclones to the 2010 Kelly Cup Championship. That season Smith was named playoff co-MVP.

For the past two seasons, Smith has been playing in the AHL. In both seasons, Smith has consistently been one of the leaders in save percentage. This season he is also amogn the league leaders in wins (18). The Predators have Pekka Rinne signed for the next seven seasons and that may impede Smith's progress. However, he does have a chance to play back-up to Rinne next season if the Predators decide to trade or not re-sign Anders Lindback.

Nick Spaling, LW, Kitchener Rangers (OHL) – 2nd round, 58th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 150

What made Nick Spaling so attractive for the 2007 draft was his all-around game. Early in 2007, then Kitchener coach (and current New Jersey Devils coach) Pete DeBoer touted Spaling as a player whose ability to think the game and consistently make the right decisions on the ice would get him to the NHL.

Spaling had a successful OHL career. Where he really stood out was during the 2008 OHL playoffs, winning the OHL Championship. Spaling finished with 30 points in just 20 playoff games, while potting the game-winning goal in Game seven. Despite improving offensively, Spaling's defensive zone coverage never faltered.

Spaling went pro after completing his 2007-08 season, his third in the OHL. In his rookie season with the Admirals he only produced 35 points. However, this is where Spaling's role became more defined as he was charged with playing against the other team's top lines. During the 2009 Predators training camp, Spaling impressed once again with his versatile game, resulting in his first call-up to the Predators later that year.

Spaling has been on the Predators roster since October 18th, 2010, becoming a key, unheralded player. While he does not score often, the Predators are undefeated in regulation whenever he does. In both his rookie and sophomore seasons, he has been second among Predators forwards in penalty killing ice time. Last season he helped the Predators set a franchise record for consecutive successful penalty kills with 37. His incredible attention to detail on the defensive end should keep him in the NHL for many years to come.

Ryan Thang, LW, Notre Dame (CCHA) – 3rd Round, 81st overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 1

Ryan Thang is a typical Predators draft pick in that he is a very hard working player. His drive and leadership were some of the key attributes that made the Predators pick Thang in round three of the 2007 draft.

Thang's production steadily declined in his four seasons with Notre Dame. He did have a strong freshman season with 41 points. However, his goal totals dropped each season thereafter. He did continue to work hard however and that perseverance earned him the captaincy his senior season.

Now playing in the AHL, Thang's journey with the Admirals seems to mirror his journey at Notre Dame. He led all Admirals rookies in points with 41 last season. This season, after a quick start, he has only two points in his last 15 games. Thang is similar to Spaling in that he may not have a high offensive ceiling, but his dedication and defensive play may just be enough to carve out a spot as a bottom six NHL two-way forward.

Ben Ryan, C, Notre Dame (CCHA) – 4th round, 114th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Ben Ryan finished with 64 points in 20006-07, which ranked him eight in USHL scoring. He was drafted however because he is a quick two-way center who is constantly involved in the play.

Ryan spent three of his four seasons in Notre Dame playing with Ryan Thang, who was drafted just 33 spots earlier 2007. Despite being an alternate captain for the 2010-11 season, Ryan never managed to score more than 12 goals in any of his three seasons with Notre Dame.

This season Ryan has split time between the ECHL and the AHL. Playing in the AHL has given Ryan the chance to reunite with Thang. Unfortunately, Ryan has been sidelined with a concussion since November 19th.

Mark Santorelli, C, Chilliwack (WHL) – 4th round, 119th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Mark Santorelli is the older brother of Mike Santorelli (FLA), who the Predators drafted in 2004. Noting Mike's success and Mark's own breakout season in the WHL, the Predators decided to draft the younger Santorelli as well. Mark went undrafted in 2006 due to concerns over his skating but that did not phase the Predators. They were dreaming of uniting Mark's playmaking ability with his older brother's scoring touch.

During his draft year, Mark finished second among WHL rookies with 82 points. In his sophomore season he exceeded expectations by finishing first in the WHL with 101 points. Yet critics still noted that Mark's production was helped greatly by playing on a dominant line with Oscar Moller (LAK).

Mark's AHL career did not go as planned. He was unable to produce more than 24 points in either of his two seasons with the Admirals. This past summer the Predators decided not to give Mark a qualifying offer. As a free agent Mark decided to join Sweden's Allsvenskan league. However, through 39 games he only has nine goals. At this point his chances of ever making the NHL are in serious doubt.

Andreas Thuresson, W, Malmo (Sweden) – 5th round, 114th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 25

Andreas Thuresson, like Mark Santorelli, also went undrafted in 2006. However, Thuresson helped his draft stock in 2007 by playing extremely well in his rookie season with Malmo (Elitserien). What also attracted the Predators to Thuresson is that like most Predators forward prospects, he is a defensively sound player who does not mind playing a physical game.

The Elitserien is known for not giving rookies a lot of ice time. Nevertheless, Thuresson managed 15 points in 48 games in his rookie season with Malmo. That ranked him fourth among those under 20 years of age playing in Elitserien that season.

Thuresson's transition to the AHL has been a failure thus far. He played in four seasons with the Admirals, reaching the 40 point plateau only once. The Predators did give him a chance at the NHL level but Thuresson only managed one goal in 25 NHL games. This past summer Thuresson was traded to the New York Rangers in exchange for Brodie Dupont. Unfortunately, Thuresson's production with the Connecticut Whale is reminiscent of his days with the Admirals.

Robert Dietrich, D, Dusseldorf (Germany) – 6th round, 174th overall
Status: Deceased
NHL Games Played: 0

Perhaps the most unexpected selection of the Predators 2007 draft was Robert Dietrich. The 5'10 Dietrich only ranked 33rd among DEL defenseman in points during his draft year.

Dietrich had a relatively successful season playing for Dusseldorf during his draft year. He accumulated 22 points and showed some offensive skills. He missed most of the following season with a leg injury, managing to play in only nine games.

The transition to the AHL was gradual. After a quiet rookie season, Dietrich led all Admirals defensemen with 43 point in his sophomore season. Still, the Predators did not provide him with a qualifying offer when his entry-level contract ran out. As a consequence, Dietrich went back to play in the DEL for one season before signing with Lokomotiv of the KHL. Dietrich's life and NHL career ended tragically on September 7th as he was on board the Lokomotiv team plane that crashed that day.

Atte Engren, G, Lukko Rauma (SM-liiga) – 7th round, 204th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Atte Engren may one day become a steal not unlike fellow Finnish Predators goalie Pekka Rinne, who was chosen in round 8 in 2004. While his draft year numbers in the SM-liiga were not spectacular, it is his hybrid butterfly style and agility that caught the attention of the Predators.

Engren started his SM-liiga career with Lukko Rauma but eventually moved on to TPS Turku. TPS Turku is a team known for producing the likes of Miikka Kiprusoff (CAL) and Antero Niittymaki (SJ). It is with TPS Turku that Engren had the most success, posting an impressive .921 save percentage in 2009-10 and a .918 save percentage in 2010-11.

In his first full season with the Admirals this season, Engren has had an up and down journey. He has at times been able to make up for poor performances by rebounding in his next start. He needs to continue to work on items like rebound control and seeing the puck better through traffic.